image by YC
'She's Still Your Mother'
Eight years ago I became a foster mother to my two nieces, ages 10 and 5. My sister was on drugs and lost her daughters to foster care.
First the girls went to my mother, but my mother’s house was too crowded. Eventually, my mother called me and told me that the girls might end up with a foster family. I was scared for my nieces. I asked my mother, “Do you think they will let me get the girls?”
“Call and ask,” she said. So I did, and the supervisor said yes. I was more than happy. I called my mother and she said, “Thank God. At least the girls will be with family.”
A Hard Adjustment
My mother told the girls and the girls were happy, too. Still, when my nieces came to live with me, it was hard. They were behind in school because they had missed a lot of days. The little one didn’t adjust easily. All she did was cry and act out. She missed her mother and she didn’t understand what had happened in her family. My older niece understood a little more, but she had begun to go into her own world.
Once I realized how much caretaking they needed, I started giving the girls all my time and got them into all kinds of programs in their school. Soon I saw them catching up and thriving.
At the time, my expectation was that the girls would only stay with me for a few months until my sister completed the service plan. I also hoped that my sister would come over for dinner, go out with us and go to the girls’ schools with me.
I helped raise my sister and always considered her a doll my mother had given to me. I dressed her up, played with her and took her everywhere. We had fun together, always acting up at the dinner table and frustrating our mother. My sister was very cute and sharp, always saying funny things. I enjoyed my sister a lot and we got along well together.
When my sister started using drugs, I didn’t understand it, and I still don’t. When I first found out and looked into her face, I said, “Oh, no. Not my sister. That’s my baby.” Her addiction felt like a terrible dream.
Trying to Help
At first, I truly believed that I would not have my nieces with me for long. But it wasn’t like that at all.
My sister didn’t do what the courts said. She would do what she wanted to do, go to her program when she wanted to go. The judge and their lawyer gave her so many chances but she just did things her way.
One day she came to court late so she didn’t see the judge. She took it out on me, saying, “If you didn’t take my girls, I wouldn’t be here in court.”
It was so hard to make my sister understand that I was only trying to help her and the girls. She would barely talk to me, but I tried to help my sister anyway. If she didn’t come to court or a meeting, I would tell my mother what was said.
As time passed, my sister started to lie and say bad things about me to other people and to my face. One day I came on a visit with my nieces and my sister came out on me. She said, “You’re only in it for the money.”
“What money?” I said. “They don’t give you any money you can do anything with. Everything my nieces get is from me.”
I was furious. I spend hundreds of dollars on my nieces every Christmas, and they don’t want for anything. I was upset that my sister didn’t want to believe that their uncle and I gave to my nieces with an open heart.
Sometimes my sister would call me just to talk mess. She would say that I am a liar, that I take people’s children, that I should have my own daughter. She’d say, “The girls don’t belong to you. My girls belong home with me. You will never be their mother. You can’t take my place.”
Then she’d ask if the girls could come to her house, knowing that the girls couldn’t go without permission from the worker. “Ask the worker at the agency,” I’d say. “I don’t make the calls, ACS does, and what they say I have to do, even if I don’t want to. If I don’t follow ACS’ rules, I can lose the children. I don’t want your girls to live without family.”
Then she would really talk junk.
“Tell their worker,” I’d just repeat. Finally she wouldn’t say anything. I’d really feel bad that I had hurt her feelings and that I had to follow ACS’ rules instead of doing what I wished to do as her sister, but I was also relieved to say goodbye and hang up.
‘How Would You Feel?’
After my sister’s phone calls I’d lie in my bed and say, “Why should I take this?” I felt angry at my sister and at the system, because following the rules was ruining my relationship with my sister. I felt like the system didn’t understand the pressures of being a kinship foster parent. They placed the children with me but didn’t help to keep our family together.
I had to remind myself: I am doing this for my nieces, and I have to put my hurt feelings to the side. I’d also remind myself that my sister was hurting inside and missing her girls.
After a while, I began to think about my sister’s point of view. I’d ask myself, “How would you feel if someone took your kids? No matter what the reason it happened, they are your kids.”
Trying to Keep a Cool Head
Still, I wished my sister would stop and think about how I felt. . .